January 2020

The new month and the new year start with Saturn barely detectable in the evening sky. The ringed planet sets not long after the sun does. But Venus is shining bright in Capricornus a bit higher. A nearly first quarter moon is on the meridian as the sun goes down on the 1st. Taurus, Orion, and Gemini are our friends to the east, rising as darkness sets in. Leo is rising by late evening. Virgo rises after midnight. And as you wait for dawn, there isn’t much planet watching to do. You’ll catch a glimpse of Mars between Libra and Scorpius. Jupiter and Mercury are rising as the sun does, so you don’t get to see them.

By mid-month, Saturn is no longer there at all in the evening sky. Venus is moving into Aquarius. And Mercury is on its way into the evening sky. You’ll see a thin, crescent moon next to Mercury on the 25th. Mercury becomes easier to see the next few nights as the moon passes by Venus on the 27th and 28th. That would be a great time to look at Venus in a telescope. Not only will you see the planet in a gibbous phase, you’ll see a pale blue dot that is Neptune nearby. The two planet are just 0.1° apart on the 27th. The thin crescent moon should offer little interference. By the 31st Mercury is heading into Aquarius and Venus is next to the lower fish’s head in Pisces.

In our morning sky looking east, Mars passes by Acrab in the scorpion’s claws on the 7th. The moon will pass Mars on the 20th. Around mid-month, you may be able to see Jupiter emerging into the morning sky. The moon is close to it on the 22nd. Saturn is also emerging into the morning sky, but it will be too close to the sun to see it when the moon passes it on the 23rd. It will require a clear horizon, but you may be able to see Saturn rising on the 31st.

The moon is at first quarter on the 3rd. There’ll be a penumbral lunar eclipse when the moon is full on the 10th. Last quarter is on the 17th. New moon is on the 24th.

Most of Africa, nearly all of Europe, nearly all of Asia, part of Australia, and Greenland will be in the visibility region for the penumbral eclipse. The outer part of Earth’s shadow will cross the moon from 17:08 to 21:12 Universal Time. If you could watch from the moon, you’d see a partial eclipse of the sun as Earth passes in front of the solar disk. From Earth, you see some darkening or a tint change in the light the moon reflects. Clouds, forest fire smoke, and volcanic ash in Earth’s atmosphere can all affect the sunlight that’s refracted on the way to the moon and affect the eclipse’s tint and shading. In this eclipse, the southern part of the moon may appear darkest around the middle of the eclipse as that part of the moon comes close to the central part of Earth’s shadow. But it won’t appear nearly as dark as it would in a partial or total eclipse.

The moon crosses the equator going north on the 3rd. It’s at its farthest north on the 10th, goes south of the equator again on the 16th, reaches southern lunistice on the 23rd, and crosses northward again on the 30th.

Lunar apogee is on the 2nd at 404,700 km. Perigee is on the 13th at 365,900 km. A second apogee is on the 29th at 405,400 km.

Earth’s perihelion occurs on the 5th at 147 million km.

The quadrantids meteor shower peaks at around 7 or 8 hours UT on the 4th. The radiant is near the Big Dipper. For North American viewers, the moon will have set. So if you’re up in those early morning hours, look north. This meteor shower has a narrow peak. So if you look too soon and go back to bed, you may miss it. Same if you get up too late.

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